Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ban xian jiang (1988)

... aka: Devil Sorcery
... aka: Devil's Sorcery

Directed by:
Do Gong-Yue


Either this is pretty awful or I just got spoiled watching too many Chih-Hung Kuei and Meng Hua Ho movies. Master sorcerer Hadi Buli (Feng Ku) keeps busy doing various jobs for his Thai neighbors; like testing out the luck of newly purchased land and making flying disembodied heads float around in the jungle. He's taken an understudy, Tung (Alan Chan Kwok-Kuen), under his wing and taught him all he knows, but there's something about Tung he just doesn't like. Not only is he an annoying, immature buffoon, but he also proves to be untrustworthy and has eyes for his master's wife. When Buli catches his pupil and significant other in bed together, a fight ensues. Tung stabs Buli with a knife, runs off and then hops a train for Hong Kong. Meanwhile, we pay a visit to the Lau family. Dad (Tin Ching) goes to visit sorcerer / fortune teller Master Chan (Kwan Hoi-San) to get advice about his son Hung (Stephen Chan Yung) and his pretty fiancé Ching (Kim Gee-Mei). Chan tells Daddy Lau that Ching has a bad aura to her, but Hung refuses to hear any of it and waits patiently for his girl to get off work each and every night. Elsewhere in the city, pretty young women are turning up missing.









The man responsible for the disappearances is, of course, Tung, who hides out in a cave meditating, chanting and causing all kinds of problems for innocent people. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I guess he's just a huge prick. Tung's face has broken out in nasty soars and he begins smelling of rotten flesh because of a curse placed upon him by his previous master, who managed to survive the stabbing. Tung calls forth floating heads, which he sends into the village to hypnotize women. Their eyes turn green and they wander over to Tung's cave dwelling where he ties them to trees and they stand in place in a state of catatonia. It appears he's collecting women, but for what purpose is never made clear. Ching (who really seems to enjoy taking showers) works as a "bar girl" at a dimly-lit, bizarre nightclub where she must sit with and talk to with lonely men. Tung becomes one of her "clients" and immediately becomes smitten with her. After she rejects his advances, he slips something into her drink and places a nasty curse upon her. Ching flips out and ends up in the hospital, where more freaky things happen. The floating heads visit her, she pukes up maggots, her bed levitates off the ground and spins, her face gets all cut up and she suddenly has a giraffe tongue. In an effort to save her, her mother, future husband and future in-laws enlist the aid of Master Chan to help and import Buli in from Thailand to assist him during the climactic sorcerer's duel.









Despite some enjoyably crazy stuff here and there, Devil Sorcery pales in comparison to others of its type. It's cheaply-produced, ineptly made, poorly acted and paced and gets extremely repetitive and tiresome after awhile. There are only so many shots of skulls lighting up, fire erupting from candles and red smoke pouring from the ground that most viewers will be able to handle. The continuity is terrible and there are lots of boring, utterly pointless dialogue scenes rehashing things we've already seen. The camera constantly zooms in and out, the film aimlessly plods along for a good 40 minutes before a plot even begins to take shape and the ending fails to generate any excitement or thrills. And as much as I usually love random, out-of-place musical numbers, I can't champion them when the song is as awful as the one heard her. The single standout moment is an amazingly disgusting scene where the evil sorcerer cracks open a casket to reveal a decomposing corpse swarming with centipedes. He then starts grabbing handfuls of the bugs and shoving them into his mouth, followed by close-ups of a mouth (really!) chewing them up. Yuck.







This Cat III "adult horror" from the director of Bloody Sorcery (1986) has one soft sex scene and about four shower scenes, but the version I watched had all of the nudity fogged out aside from one ass shot. It "borrows" all of its music from other films; primarily Stephen King's Cat's Eye (1985) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). The Malaysian label Dragon Jester released this onto DVD but they used a piss poor video transfer.

1/2

Frankenstein's Daughter (1958)

... aka: She Monster of the Night

Directed by:
Richard E. Cuhna

Under contract for four pictures with Astor Pictures Corporation, Hawaii-born director Cunha (who was more prolific as a cinematographer for TV westerns) cranked out four low-budget 'B' horror and sci-fi films in 1958. Giant from the Unknown, Missile to the Moon, She Demons and this one were all shot in less than a week apiece on budgets of about 65,000 dollars the same year. Needless to say, these meager-budgeted, rushed productions didn't impress many viewers, though several have gone to minor cult fame. Elderly scientist Carter Morton (Felix Locher) is on the threshold of creating a drug that will "wipe out all destructive cells and organisms that plague man" in his home-based lab. Though he may be a genius, he's not a very good judge of character and has surrounded himself with evil (and pervy!) assistants. The first is Oliver Frank (Donald Murphy), the guy who helps him in the lab. Oliver is grumpy, negative and sneaky, but since it took weeks to train him, Professor Morton keeps him around. Little does anyone know, but Oliver has shortened his last name. It's actually (*gulp*) Frankenstein, and he's the grandson of you-know-who and does just what one may suspect behind his employers back. He's assisted in his work by the home's weird-o handyman Elsu (Wolfe Barzell), who had worked for the original Dr. Frankenstein. Oliver sends Elsu out to crime or accident scenes to swipe spare body parts so he can construct "the perfect being." Neither of the guys can seem to keep their paws off of Carter's pretty young niece Trudy (Sandra Knight), who's had to move in following the death of her parents.






Poor Trudy just wants to live a normal life, but we're afraid that's not possible since Oliver's been using her as a guinea pig. By giving her a tainted fruit punch cocktail, he's able to transform her into a blue-faced, wrinkly creature who roams the streets at night. After her little midnight terror strolls, Trudy awakens in bed the next morning thinking it was all just a horrible nightmare. She tries to confide this to her baby-faced boyfriend Johnny (John Ashley), but he just acts like a jerk and doesn't believe her, and her friend Suzie (Sally Todd), who spotted the creature herself, gets jealous thinking Trudy just wants to steal her attention. Since she also believes Trudy stole Johnny away from her, Suzie tries to get revenge by seducing Oliver. He takes her to Lover's Lane and starts being overly aggressive, so she demands he take her home. Still needing a brain / head for his monster creation, Oliver decides to mow her over with his car instead. He takes her head back to the lab, sews it on to the body and does the standard electricity routine to it. While he's out of the lab tending to Carter (who has a weak heart), the monster climbs off the operating table and escapes out the door.






The hulking she-monster, played by male Harry Wilson with a bandaged head, goes to a storehouse and crushes a worker with a door. It then wanders back to the lab and is tied up by Oliver and Elsu in the attic, while Elsu plots to give Carter a fatal heart attack so he can have full access to the lab. In an attempt to perk herself up, Trudy decides to host a pool party where the Paul Cavanaugh Trio perform a God awful song called "Special Date." Harold Lloyd Jr., who plays Suzie's boyfriend Don, also performs a song and dance routine at the party to "Daddy Bird." While all that's going on, policemen Boyle (John Zaremba) and Dillon (Robert Dix) show up at the home to investigate matters. Oliver rats out Carter (who's been breaking into a pharmaceutical company to steal chemicals) and has him hauled off to jail. Carter dies of a heart attack in the hospital later, and the mad Oliver uses this opportunity to let the cat out of the bag and introduce Trudy to his monster creation. It's nothing a little acid and a Bunsen burner can't take of.






Despite a busy plot, the novelty of having two she-creatures in one film and an amusingly over-the-top performance from Murphy, this still manages to be mostly dull. The cast is what provides the primary interest for cult film buffs. Ashley would go to become a Beach Party teen heartthrob and then starred in a slew of shot-in-the-Philippines exploitation films in the late 60s and early 70s before becoming a TV producer. Knight, who'd later marry Jack Nicholson, and Todd (an early Playboy Playmate) both appeared in numerous Roger Corman productions. Dix became an Al Adamson regular. Perhaps most interesting of all is Lloyd. The son of famous silent film comedian Harold Lloyd and actress Mildred Davis, Harold Jr. had a very spotty career as an actor and cabaret singer in the 50s and 60s. He received only one starring vehicle - 1953's The Flaming Star, which was unsuccessful, and ended up primarily in low-grade 'B' pictures like this one. Because he couldn't quite live up to his father's success despite numerous opportunities and was gay (with a penchant for violent lovers), Lloyd Jr. became an alcoholic, suffered from severe depression, had a stroke at age 34 and died at age 40, just a few months after his more-famous father.






An easy-to-find public domain title, this can be viewed for free online on various sites or you can pick it up for next to nothing on various budget labels. It's listed in the Razzie Movie Guide as one of the 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made.

1/2

Amazing Transparent Man, The (1960)

... aka: Search for a Shadow

Directed by:
Edgar G. Ulmer

Somewhere in Texas, Laura Madison (Marguerite Chapman) helps bust violent-tempered burglar Joey Faust (Douglas Kennedy) out of prison. Oddly enough, she happens to be a complete stranger and he has no idea why she's done this or what she wants with him. After evading the police, the two go to a house out in the middle of nowhere, where the mean, bitter and distrustful Faust is introduced to Major Paul Krenner (James Griffith), an evil spy whose military career was cut short thanks to a piece of shrapnel. The Major happens to know a lot about Joey, including the fact it was his wife who squealed on him and that he's never even had a chance to meet his own daughter. He also knows that Faust has a reputation in the criminal underworld as a genius when it comes to cracking safes and vaults. Krenner would like to put Faust's skills to use stealing raw materials from government research facilities for some vague experiments being conducted there by Dr. Peter Ulof (Ivan Thiesault); a former Nazi concentration camp scientist. Dr. Ulof has created an invisibility ray which "neutralizes all tissue and bone structure in the body" and "utilizes x-ray alpha, beta and omega rays and ultra violets" and they plot to use that technology to get Faust in and out of heavily-guarded buildings. What could possibly go wrong there?







After Dr. Ulof demonstrates his ray on a guinea pig; making it invisible and then restoring its visibility, to show how safe it is, Faust is convinced. Not that he has much of a choice anyway. He either cooperates or he's turned back over to the authorities. Pretty much everyone working under the major is only doing so because he's blackmailing them. He's keeping Dr. Ulof's daughter Maria (Cormel Daniel) prisoner in the home and threatens to kill her if he doesn't cooperate. The Major's rifle-toting thug Julian (Boyd 'Red' Morgan) is only loyal because he claims to know the whereabouts of his missing son. Laura is his lover, but he keeps her in check by slapping her around. And now he has Faust, but he's not planning on taking orders from anyone. Once he's turned invisible, he steals a metal canister of nuclear material from a vault, but then he decides he wants lots of money, so he has Laura drive him to a bank so he can steal a bag of cash. The whole arrangement seems too good to be true, and that's because it is. Because Ulof has been using radioactive materials in his experiments, both he and Faust have come down with lethal radioactive poisoning and their days are numbered.







This low key crime drama with horror and sci-fi touches was one of the final films for the fairly prolific Ulmer, who has a handful of gems under his belt, including the Boris Karloff / Bela Lugosi Gothic horror classic The Black Cat (1934) and the superb low-budget film noir Detour (1945). He also contributed the worthwhile Bluebeard (1944), starring John Carradine as a murderous artist, The Man from Planet X (1951), a silly though ahead-of-its-time alien invasion tale, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) and others to our beloved genre. In its own small, unoriginal, zero budget way, Transparent Man shows the hallmarks of an experienced director who knows what he's doing. Filmed for peanuts, it's efficiently made, very quickly paced and doesn't really waste any time on unnecessary filler like similar films. As a result, this whole thing is compressed into a tidy 57 minutes. The performances are also pretty competent, though there's not much here that can't be seen elsewhere (primarily in Universal's Invisible Man series). But hey, if you've got an hour to kill, this can do just that pretty painlessly... you just won't be remembering it about a week later. It received the Mystery Science Theater treatment in 1995.







Filmed in 1959 under the title Search for a Shadow, Ulmer shot this back-to-back with Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) around Dallas over a 2 week period. It was one of the first efforts for Roger George, who'd keep busy for the next 30 years doing special effects for such wide-ranging films as The Dunwich Horror (1970), Blacula (1970), Humanoids from the Deep (1980), The Howling (1981), The Terminator (1984), Night of the Demons (1988) and many more. He also did invisibility fx for Invisible Invaders (1959), The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), Invisible Strangler (1976) and others.  Photographic effects are by Howard A. Anderson. Legendary Universal make-up artist Jack B. Pierce gets a credit, though I can't really recall any make-up effects work in this one.

★★1/2
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